Unlock the Secrets to Success: Make Up Work for Absent Students

Letter blocks spell out the word absent. Caption reads "What do you do when students return from an absence?"

Let’s face it, there are a million reasons why students are absent from school and it’s not something we can control…as much as we would like to!!! What we can control is how we respond and what systems are in place when students return to school. Managing make up work for absent students can be stressful! Let me help you build a system that works.

Have you ever had a student come to you and ask, “Did I miss anything when I was gone?”  Or, even worse…“Did I miss anything important when I was gone?”  

Like, “No Jimmy…we just sat and stared at the wall because we missed you so much. We couldn’t possibly go on without you!” 🤣🤣

I’m glad middle schoolers can appreciate a little sarcasm!! 🤣🤣

Seriously though, keeping track of absent work can be a real headache! Obviously, you want to make sure students get caught up but you also can’t stop class everyday to go through a list of assignments to make up.

 So, what do you do?! 

Don’t worry…we’ve got your back! We’re about to dive into how to handle make up work for absent students like a boss. 🎤

Frustrated male teacher when asked "Did I miss anything when I was gone?" He needs a system to manage make up work for absent students!

Managing make up work for absent students


As a middle school teacher, I was always looking for ways to encourage my students to take ownership of their learning. To me, that includes taking more responsibility.

There are are tons of ways student can practice taking responsibility in the classroom – making good choices on where they sit, who they sit with, who they choose to be in groups with, how they conduct themselves in the classroom, how they manage their time, and making sure they keep track of their absent work. 

Create an absent work management system


Finding a system to manage make up work for students made such a difference in my classroom! Knowing I had a system in place for both myself and students to follow was a huge weight off my shoulders.  I stopped dreading questions from students the beginning of class.

A system that manages make up work for absent students has to include, at least, these three things:

  1.  A method to track what work a student misses
  2.  A location to store that work
  3.  A clear policy on who is responsible for retrieving the make up for absent students

make up work system - "What did I miss?"

It took me a couple of years to find a system for managing make up work that really fit with my personality and teaching style. 📂📂📂
The “What did I miss?” system encourages independence, models planning and organization, and allows students some control.  Here’s how it works – 

  • There is a dedicated location in the classroom to track and store make up work for absent students 
  • The location is accessible for everyone 
  • The location is labeled
  • Students are responsible for making their way to the location in the classroom on their first day back from an absence
  • I remind students regularly in class announcements 
  • If a student asks me “What did I miss?” I simply point to the location

How do students find their make up work?

When students make their way to the “What did I Miss?” area, which was at the front of my classroom right next to the board, they will see three items – 

  1. A calendar
  2. A crate
  3. A turn in tray

Each of these items are labeled with the question – “What did I miss?”

Check out the different components of the system below 🔻🔻🔻

The “What did I miss?” calendar always included two months              (the current month and the previous month). Each day, the calendar would be updated with the assignments and activities that would need to be made up AND an indicator as to whether they were digital or on paper.  

Make up work for absent students - the calendar. Teachers use this to track when assignments are missed.
Make up work for absent students crate. Teachers use this to store absent work.



The “What did I miss?” crate sits below the calendar and is used to organize and store any hard copy assignments. The crate is set up with a folder for each day of the month.

Last month’s assignments are put in a folder at the back of the crate.


The “What did I miss?” paper is used to provide a list of make up work for absent students. Notes about each assignment can be written here.

Blank copies of the paper are kept at the front of the crate.

Pro tip – Make “Attendance Clerk” one of your classroom jobs. The attendance clerk can make a list of students who need the paper or fill the paper out.

Make up work for absent students - the paper. Teachers us this paper to detail absent work.

How quickly do students have to make up work?


Make sure you follow any building or district policies on allowing make up work for absent students. Some districts have very specific policies about how much time students get to submit the work after an absence.

Your classroom policy can allow for more than the specified amount of time, but not less. Early in my career, I was a stickler about how long I gave students to make up work, but it became more of a burden on me. So, I settled on a policy that said students could turn in late or make up work anytime up to a week before the end of the grading period. 

Check with your administrator if you have questions or concerns about this. 

Students who don't make up work

Wouldn’t it be great if students followed all the rules and policies?! We know that’s not going to happen though. So, we need to be prepared. Here are some strategies to help prevent and/or address this issue, when it arises – 

  • Give frequent reminders to check the “What did I miss?” area. 💡 Pro tip – Try verbal AND written reminders, like on your agenda slide.
  • Make the area engaging – Try bright colors
  • Involve students as much as possible – ask for their input on where it should be located in the classroom
  • Provide accommodations or modifications for students who need it. 💡Pro tip – this isn’t just going to be kids on IEPs and 504s
  • Stick to it – change is hard, but having a system in place really will lighten your load. 💡 Pro tip – Make it your own! Adapt these strategies to fit you and your students. 

You got this!

Grab your own copy of the “What did I miss?” system to help you handle make up work for absent students like a boss. 
Just click the button below 🔻🔻🔻

Giving students power to control certain things in the classroom is a key part of my classroom culture. You can read more about that → here.